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Renewable Energy

21 Jul 2005 : Column 164WS

The Minister for Energy (Malcolm Wicks): I am making today a statement to the House on the interaction of existing Government policy and planning procedures, with regard to the need for new energy infrastructure, arising from the targets, goals and aspirations for renewable generation set out in the 2003 energy White Paper, "Our Energy Future—creating a low carbon economy".

The 2003 energy White Paper set out four key goals of energy policy:

To put the UK on a path to cut carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) emissions by some 60 per cent. by about 2050.

To maintain the reliability of energy supplies.

To promote competitive markets in the UK and beyond.

To ensure that every home is adequately and affordably heated.

The energy White Paper makes clear that UK energy systems will undergo a significant change over the next 20 years to allow these goals to be met. Therefore, it will be necessary to update much of the UK's energy infrastructure during that period 1 . There will be a requirement for:

An expansion in infrastructure (e.g. overhead power lines and underground cables, and pipelines).

New forms of infrastructure (e.g. smaller scale distributed generation, gas storage sites).

Infrastructure development in areas that have not previously seen such developments.

The energy White Paper also makes clear that UK energy policy is delivered through a market framework, governed by an independent regulator. Government policy puts in place broad objectives, which are supported by regulation, fiscal regimes and, where necessary, financial support. As with the sector in general, the private sector is best placed to develop the systems that can deliver the demanding new renewables generation targets and objectives in the most economic, efficient and effective way possible 2 .

This principle applies to decisions about the exact provision and location or route of energy transmission and distribution infrastructure which must be taken within the planning system which ensures that development and changes in land use occur in suitable locations.

Beyond broad targets for renewable electricity and combined heat and power (see the energy White Paper) the UK Government do not believe that energy policy should set out a specific fuel mix for electricity generation; nor have they attempted to determine the best specific location for new facilities to generate electricity power or other kinds of energy infrastructure.

Instead the UK Government believe that the private sector is best placed to decide exactly what energy infrastructure is needed and how, subject to planning and environmental requirements, to deliver policy objectives most effectively. It therefore falls to the developer to demonstrate the desirability of a particular scheme in a particular location. For the monopoly transmission and distribution networks that is to be achieved within the price controls set by the regulator.

A slightly different approach has been taken in Wales, where the Assembly Government have set out in their revised technical advice note (TAN) 8 that 800 MW of additional capacity will be required to be provided by large-scale onshore wind by 2010. TAN8 has identified specific areas considered suitable for large-scale onshore wind farm development. The capacity of the electricity distribution system to accommodate sufficient wind energy developments is a key influence on the shape and distribution of proposals in Wales.

1 e.g. Energy White Paper 2003, paras 1.16–1.17, page 10.

2 e.g. EWP, para 1.21.

The provision of energy infrastructure is part of a delivery system that provides an essential national service. Business and homes in the UK require a reliable supply of energy free from disruption and interruption. New energy infrastructure projects may not appear to convey any particular local benefit and may indeed have adverse local effects, but they provide crucial national benefits, which all localities share. In particular, projects will usually add to the reliability of national energy supply, from which every user of the system benefits.

Failure to put in place energy infrastructure will, immediately or over time—and individually, incrementally or cumulatively—reduce the reliability of energy systems, with potentially disastrous consequences for the local, regional and national community and economy. Energy infrastructure projects often have long lead times and/or cater for longer-term needs, based on careful forward planning by energy companies. Therefore, even where new projects may not appear to have immediate benefits, failure to put them in place may reduce future reliability.

In remoter areas, where new renewable generation is to take place, new distribution and transmission networks will be required as a consequence of the need to achieve—through new energy sources, as part of a package of measures—the Government's energy policy objectives. Electricity generation is itself a key source of emissions of carbon dioxide (CO 2 ), the main greenhouse gas. How electricity is generated will play a crucial part in whether the Government will be able to deliver their international commitments and their domestic goal for a 20 per cent. reduction in CO 2 emissions in 2010 (set out in the UK climate change strategy) and, ultimately, reductions of 60 per cent. by 2050.

The Government have therefore set targets for the expansion of renewable forms of electricity generation, which produce low CO 2 emissions or no CO 2 emissions at all.

Renewable Energy

The UK Government have set a target that generation from renewable sources (wind power, wave power, biomass, hydropower, solar power etc.) should supply 10 per cent. of the UK electricity in 2010. The Government's aspiration is by 2020 to double renewable energy's share of electricity to 20 per cent. The Scottish Executive have set a target that 18 per cent. of their electricity will come from renewables by 2010, and recently consulted about raising this to 40 per cent. by 2020. In Wales, the Welsh Assembly Government have set benchmark targets of 4 TWh per annum of renewable energy production by 2010 and 7 TWh by 2020.

The expansion of renewable energy is essential as a part of a package of measures to meet the Government's CO 2 reduction targets and mitigate future global climate change, which could have significant impacts on all areas of the UK.

Renewable energy will also provide economic benefits for the UK economy. Often, individual renewables developments can offer economic benefits to local areas in terms of jobs, investment and revitalisation of the rural economy.
As with all energy infrastructure, however, there will be occasions when such developments may appear to offer few local benefits, but will still add to the essential resilience of national energy systems.

Renewable generation infrastructure needs to be developed where sufficient renewable energy resources exist for it to be economic and effective. For example:

Wind turbines generally require average wind speeds of more than 4 to 5 metres per second.

Biomass installations need access to sufficient sources of biomass fuel within the local area. The recommended radius for energy crops is 25 miles/40 kms under DEFRA's energy crops planting scheme.

However, developers will be best placed to make a judgment about the technical feasibility and economic viability of individual projects.

Renewable energy resources are distributed widely throughout the UK. Therefore, for UK renewables targets to be met, a significant amount of new renewable generation infrastructure will need to be built in every region of the UK, often in local areas that have not previously housed generation infrastructure.

I am today placing in the Libraries of both Houses a fuller note setting out Government policy that is intended to provide assistance by being a material consideration of significant weight in planning decisions on energy infrastructure.

Ruth Chambers

Deputy Chief Executive

Council for National Parks

020 7924 4077 ext 222


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Council for National Parks

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Council for National Parks

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Tel  029 2045 0433


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Mae Cyngor y Parciau Cenedlaethol yn elusen

gofrestredig rhif 295336 ac yn gwmni cyfyngedig

trwy warant rhif 2045556, cofrestrwyd yn Lloegr

a Chymru yn 6/7 Barnard Mews,

London SW11 1QU.